|note to self: make this button|
In short, this is no longer the case.
Throughout the night, there were little things that caught me the wrong way, from him, and looking back, these may have compounded. I'm not sure what was different; usually there are lots of little things like this, when we spend time together. Five minutes into the night, he made a joke about herpes, and I called him out on it, generally at first, and then with specific, personal reference. Went something like:
Me: "Hey, can we leave herpes out of it?"
Dudefriend #2: "I mean, I didn't mean it like that, you know, I just - it's herpes, right? I mean..."
Me: "Yeah, but I don't like herpes jokes, and I'd appreciate if you didn't make them around me."
Dudefriend #2: "Okay, but I didn't mean anything by it."
Me: "Right... so, just to say it: I have herpes, and that's part of why I don't like them. Thanks."
Dudefriend #2: - crickets -
I think I resorted to personal facts, even though I often try not to do this, because the reason not to make herpes jokes has nothing to do with the fact that I have herpes, and everything to do with the cultural stigma surrounding the virus. But... sometimes I don't have the energy to fight that fight. Or, as we'll see coming up, I hadn't found it yet.
We got to talking about sex, and what defines sex, virginity, etc. I started, as I usually do, to ask about why it is we need to define sex at all, what purpose it serves, under what contexts these questions come up, and what it says about us culturally that they do. As a side note, I never do this because I'm looking for a fight, but rather, because these are the things that interest me, this is where my brain revs it's engines the brightest (although I'm learning, slowly, that doing this often leads to confrontation and debate. I'm trying to take that into consideration more).
And then we got on to a conversations about playwrights, and what happens when modern theater takes a play and does something with it that, perhaps, the playwright didn't intend (the example used: casting a black actor as the male lead in Streetcar Named Desire). And when Dudefriend #2 got into an empassioned speech about what playwrights he loved, and why they should be honored, I sort of lost it. It went something like this:
Dudefriend #2: "... Tennesee Williams and Thorton Wilder, I mean, these are the great playwrights of our age, these are playwrights I've looked up and read my whole life, and their work ---"
Me: And isn't that nice? That you were raised in a world where you had role models who were writing about things you could relate to, who looked like you and tackled subject matter that was relevant to you? Wouldn't it be great if everybody had that?
Dudefriend #2: I mean, yeah, but I can't do anything about it, and it's not my fault that the world is the way it is, and I mean..."
And I just... broke. I think I rolled my eyes, or scoffed, or something, because he looked at me, and said "what?" and... the dam gave way. I shook my head, looked at the table, let out a breath, and unloaded.
"You drive me fucking crazy, sitting there, so defensive, just a little, scared boy, terrified of examining your own world view, and every single fucking thing out of your mouth is so tiny, and priveledged, and..."
His response, I think, was something like "Well, I appreciate the honesty." Which, to his credit, didn't escalate things.
I sort of trailed off. I realized that I was sitting at Dudefriend #1's going away party, that these three were better friends than I was, that I had been (graciously) invited into their social circle for the evening. I felt bad, and it was rude, and I said as much, sort of muttering. I maybe should have left, just there. But Claire, in fine form, handled it with an overly-acknowledging-of-the-awkward "So....." and we carried on.
After a few more drinks, and much talk of American theater, we parted ways. In the parking lot, I turned to hug Dudefriend #2, and told him I was sorry. He said "it's okay, but if I could just... say one thing." And he stood there, and gave me, as it were, a piece of his mind:
"I'm happy to be at fault for things, when things are my fault. I'm happy to apologize for something, if you feel disrespected. But I expect my viewpoints to be respected also, I want mutual respect among my friends. I don't like to be disrespected, and I don't like to be blamed for things that aren't my fault."
|it wasn't so bad as this, but it was close.|
And I don't know how to explain why this was infuriating. Why he is infuriating to me. Why I got into my car and blasted bad pop and punched my steering wheel all the way home, and cried a little, and went through wave after wave of emotional upset that spanned from enraged, to ashamed, to sad, to simply, curled up in my couch, defeated. I've written and re-written this post to try and map it out, to try and get to the details of why this is so difficult. I think it has a lot to do with some of the tactics in Derailing for Dummies, but it's also more than that. It's something, I think, about the interaction between personal experience, or personal action, and the recognition of bigger things. I've tried to script a meta-narrative about what goes on, which might be helpful, and might not, but I'm muddling through it, so here goes:
Me/Anyone: Hey, there's something shitty about what you said/how you think/that thing you brought up. Here's why; not your fault, but it's indicative of these things about our world.
Dudefriend #2: I mean, didn't mean to offend, I was just saying a thing [what I hear: "you do not have the right to be offended, and I will not acknowledge that what I said was hurtful; also, the systems you're pointing out? They don't exist for me, because I don't think I'm really to blame! Sorry!].
Me/Anyone: Right, but what you said was hurtful/shitty/indicative of this bigger thing. I can explain why: here's the bigger narrative, and you're right, it's not your fault at all, but acknowledging that that narrative exists is.. true, and... I don't understand why you won't do that?
Dudefriend #2: Why are you attacking me? I don't adhere to these cultural beliefs; I'm my own person, I'm not an asshole, why are you blaming me? I don't do all these things you say the world does, so why is it relevant?
Me/Anyone: Except that... you do. Which isn't a point of blame. It's just recognizing that we're all complicit in the system, you, me, the Pope and the President, that even the questions we're raising are indicative of a system that's broken, a system that's shitty for a lot of people, which isn't anybody's fault, it just... is.
Dudefriend #2: Well, that's just how it is. There's not anything I can do about it, and I'm not perpetuating it. Why are you saying I'm perpetuating it? Why are you attacking me?
The facts, for me, are these: the broader cultural narrative that I'm pointing out? It colors my everyday experience. It colors it in a way that I cannot get away from, and more importantly, in a way that's detrimental to my life, that puts me on the short end of the stick, as it were. I understand that, for you, it's different. That it puts you with advantages, that it lends to your life just as it takes away from mine. But you cannot tell me it doesn't exist. And when I point out how this broad cultural narrative affects your life too, how it, in fact, makes your privilege, and why this is important to recognize? And you come back at me with a personal story about why it doesn't? That is undermining my experience. That is saying "well, I don't think that this exists."
What is usually comes out as, and why these conversations often come to a stalemate, is "why are you blaming me? Why is it my fault?"
And my answer to that is: it's not.
Let go of the fault. Thousands of years of patriarchy and oppression are not your fault. But you did get a better deal, and in this moment, this interaction, sitting here, me over my whiskey and you over your rum, if you refuse to acknowledge that? That's your fault. That's you perpetuating the very system you cannot see. That is a young, rich, white male saying "I do not acknowlege your experience," and that's patriarchal.
And I think that's what gets me most. I think that's what's most frustrating. Because if Dudefriend #2 always feels blamed, and always feels backed into a corner, he's never going to realize the bigger picture. I don't know how to give him a context where he can.
Maybe I'm to blame, somehow, for getting him to this place? I honestly want to know how I can do this better. How I can have these conversations better. I want to unpack how I think, and whether it's right, and how he thinks, and where we can meet each other somewhere along the continuum. I want to leanr and put into practice how righteousness and passion can be obstacles to changing people's minds, how there are times when maybe the way I approach a conversation can actually help a shift with someone's perspective. But sometimes, especially after some whiskey, I come to an end of things. I come to a hard concrete bollard that stops productive conversations, and leaves me panting and sweating in my feminist tracks.
Because it isn't your fault, Dudefriend #2, but there are things you can do to make it better. And one of those things? One of those things is simply letting go of fault. It's an infinitesimal leap between undermining experience and advocacy, really (and maybe that sounds condescending, but I'm standing on the bollard now, shouting). All it has to be is "yes, I see this." All it has to be is questioning what is normal, admitting that you don't exist in a void, that your personal experiences and your identity are influenced by bigger things. It's harder to see, because for you, most of those things are beneficial. Not all of them, but sum total, you come out on top.
I want to know how to help you see it. I really, really do.